Shadows of a Haunting

“Each leaf that brushed his face deepened his sadness and dread. Each leaf he passed he’d never pass again. They rode over his face like veils, already some yellow, their veins like slender bones where the sun shone through them. He had resolved himself to ride on for he could not turn back and the world that day was as lovely as any day that ever was and he was riding to his death.”  – Cormac McCarthy, Child of God

Where do people go when they disappear? I mean, what happens to them? How do they disappear?

I know a person, whose mother-in-law, once walked out of the house, supposedly to buy something – and disappeared. Simply vanished. The family is fairly rich and they spent a huge amount in trying to trace her. The police; private detectives; advertisements with photograph in all major newspapers……it has been over twenty-five years now and no trace of her. Nothing has been found. Not even a body. Such an amazing situation. Where did she go? What happened to her?

How wonderful would it be to disappear? Just to go away from everything. But, technically, you cannot disappear if you are still in some one’s mind? When does one stop being remembered? How does one make memories go away somewhere? How do I make my ‘memory’ disappear forever from somebody else’s mind?


I have been told that I am a “dark person”. Is it because from my extremely dark corner, when I look out, theoretically into the luminous, I see more darkness than that is around/inside me? Wasn’t it Carl Jung who said that to be whole one must have a dark side also! And, paradoxically there is a saying by Rumi, “The wound is the place where the light enters you.” So, considering the lesions I have, I should be fairly well-lit!

Thus, this is from the momentarily lit shadowy place.


Some images and events remain so vivid even after the passage of years. I still can’t forget the day when I was once trudging up a narrow road in the then Uttar Pradesh. I heard loud music – some religious song, a bhajan – middle of nowhere. As I turned around the curve of the road I came across this nook that had a small waterfall, and there was this naked sadhu with long braided hair having a bath. Parked nearby adorned with flags, was a 350 cc Royal Enfield; clean and sparkling with easy rider type of handles; two speakers on either side of the pillion; and ‘jugadofied’ on the fuel tank was a cassette player. All these were attached to a spare battery.

Known as the ‘motorcycle wale baba’ this man had abandoned the world as-it-were and roamed around the country in his bare skin riding his ‘chariot’. Refusing the offer of a chillum I shared some dry bread with him and had asked him as to why he was doing this? “I want to disappear” was the answer. How the hell was he planning to disappear this way has never been clear to me! Maybe there was something inside him that had vanished?


Severe back sprain forces me to return from Leynk and Madhmaheshwar is out as ascent is steep and terrain tricky. Kalimath to Guptkashi on top of a jeep. Sighted my first Lammergeier!


At Shauk Kharak (3100 m above sea level) is where Michael Green had camped to conducted his research on the Bharal and the Himalayan Musk Deer from 1974 – 76. The hut that he had built during that time was still there and I remember sheltering myself under its broken roof for two days from the heavy rain and sleet.

Didn’t come across a single human being since I left Tungnath. Three blissful days of solitude. Slow arduous walk down to Kanchula Kharak. Hit the road and came to an absolute U-pin bend that had a teetering forest watch tower. Lay down on one side of the road to rest and slept for a while without being disturbed.


Somewhere near the Lata road post below the Nanda Devi Biosphere. That night, Ian was particularly high on the local brew Kachhi and was singing accompanied by Dhansinh. The villagers found it very odd that I, ‘phakkar babu’ (that’s what they called me) did not drink; even after being told that it was ‘Devi ka prasad’. The women found it out of the ordinary that a man did not drink.

In the Tungnath area they used to call me ‘tent wale babu’.

The hospitality of the people is heart-wrenching. Unlike Malari, here at Lata Kharak they have embraced me as their own. People sit around and we talk and they ask me about the places I have seen; about my life; and as to why am I moving around like this. Why am I not home?

Home I think? Where is home? This is more of a home to me than what my actual home has given or offered. I am unable to give them the facts because I know they will not comprehend. So, I give half-truths and they nod and the momentary silence is followed by the women clucking their tongues. It is indicative of their empathy. I keep quiet and sensitive to my feelings they do not prod further.

So much has been taken away from them. They too are living in the shadows of a haunting. Trust and Pride are valued. They are repulsed by deceit within a relationship or a bond; such a breech can lead to bloodshed. But as I shamefully accept their gentle and understanding gaze, the sham adds to my personal pain and I cry without shedding tears. I feel so desolate. They ask me about my children and I speak from my heart. Their next question stumps me……”How can you roam around like this when you love them so much?”………”Don’t you miss them?”  The answers are too difficult for me. I keep silent and weep some more and go deeper into the shadows of a haunting.


Long time ago, in the year nineteen something; absolutely sick of what was happening all around me, and totally unable to make people see sense, I had more-or-less made up my mind to disappear – to leave home, to leave everything and hopefully never be found again. I wish I had had more resolve to follow through my sentiment then. I had left with just a small rucksack and bare essentials, leaving a letter, hoping that people would become aware of the reason why I was going away………..what their behaviour was doing to the world and those around them. I was away for couple-of-months but returned because of two very important individuals in my life. They were central to all that I lived for. I really regret coming back because nothing had changed. As a matter of fact, my re-appearance was an occasion of great ridicule; and that derision is one of the many haunting.


Knowledge that cannot be put into use and practised is like putting manure on a flat stone and expecting it to turn fertile. Sometimes it is too late and attempts to retrieve, sustain and preserve are futile. One wrong and selfish step in life can have such catastrophic results that can devastate the lives of others. To debase one’s own self in order to achieve something is not really worth living. One has to get off the fence at some point of time.


How many years do I have left now? Should I even be talking in terms of years or months or weeks or hours – I really have no idea.

When, where and how will I breathe my last?

What have I done in my life?

Have I been able to create ripples in a vacuum pond?

Have I been in the wrong by not allowing myself to become part of the usual flow?

Should I have given-in and compromised?


Who am I?

What am I?

Why am I?

Where am I?

For whom am I?

Am I?!


I am more-or-less geared up to disappear this time. Reservations are there. Thinking is on. Feelings are still jumbled. I continue to question myself frequently.


I have been living in the shadows of a haunting and would now like to step out and disappear.


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